PDP: Turning Point or Terminal Tumble? By Adagbo Onoja

Adagbo-OnojaWe are all most likely still aware of this old but still very interesting theory of global politics which says that great powers constitute and are constituted by a tragedy because, no matter how hard they try, they cannot get out of the tragedy of fighting each other and self-destructing. They just have to because they are scared stiff of each other, no matter how harmless and good intentioned the other might be. This is the basis of the prediction that it is a matter of time before the US and China clash dangerously, similar to how Germany and Japan clashed with the subsisting world orders in the early Twentieth –century, leading to the First and Second World Wars. The only exception in recent history has been Britain and the US and this happened because Britain’s resistance to the German challenge to its world leadership got it to a where the US became a benefactor. It is a scary prediction which could come true although over which we do not have to panic because that is just one and there are other countless theories, each with its own different claims about how relationship between the US and China, the two great powers of today, would play out.

Now, as with great powers and tragedy, so it seems with dominant parties and crash landing out of power, given what has happened to historically dominant parties across the world recently. Symbolised by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, (PRI) in Mexico whose own loss of power has been the subject of an interesting book, titled Why Dominant Parties Lose: Mexico’s Democratization in Comparative Perspective, the trend has moved across Asia and Africa. The India National Congress which has existed since 1885, controlling much of Indian politics since Independence in 1947 can be said to have finally lost power in the 2014 elections. Its ability to come back rests in speculation. The liberal Democratic Party in Japan would fall in here but its own is slightly different in that it has since successfully staged a come-back. The ANC of South Africa doesn’t fit in here because, although it has a history of over 100 years behind it, much of it was in the bush. It is only since 1994 they have been learning statecraft. And it has not crashed out of power yet.

Situated within this typology of dominant parties, it is debatable if Nigeria’s People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) would fit. But it fits as a dominant party crashing out of power by the nature of its self-construction as a ‘Great Party’, a discourse which corresponded significantly with the idea of Nigeria as a great country that we took for granted until we were rudely confronted by the turbulence of 1985 – 1998. So, when the PDP came with the idea of people, democracy and party, there was something great about it. It also lent credence to its potentials when one looked at the structural innovations built into it, with particular reference to the Board of Trustees, to be composed of individuals whose stature and pedigree would be such that no president of Nigeria could contemplate, much less intimidate, individually and collectively, should he or she begin to think of power in a manner antithetical to ‘people, democracy and party’.

This is not to talk of the fact that it rose in revolt against a lethal regime and, by implication, started as a radical movement to the extent of that origin. To this we add the fact that six of the original seven rebels who gave birth to the party were politicians of the broad left, those who gave substance to the Second Republic. I am referring to people like Solomon Lar, Bola Ige, Abubakar Rimi, Iyorchia Ayu, Sule Lamido and Jerry Gana before they merged with Adamu Ciroma, Francis Ella and eventually Dr. Alex Ekwueme to commence their opposition to Abacha. This had started under the innocuous platform they called ‘The Institute of Civil Society’ under which auspice Professor Akin Mabogunje delivered a powerful conceptualisation of Nigeria as a society undergoing triple transitions in her journey from neo-feudalism to modernity in February 1998. The Punch published the lecture in full.

Abacha regime did not know or did not show it understood what was building up. Buoyed up by that, the group approached Dr Alex Ekwueme to assume the leadership. His qualification was that, in the absence of Shehu Shagari who had quit politics, he was the next person on the line if anyone was talking about bringing back democracy. Alex Ekwueme wanted proof of commitment to the idea instead of falling prey to people or an idea that might as well have been Abacha’s. It was commonsensical. That request for an assurance that the fledging PDP was not a cover for Abacha and, by extension, a northern thing was what gave rise to the G-18 which delivered an explosive warning against self-succession to General Abacha early 1998. It was to be G-19, meaning one person from each state of the north but one person raised questions and dropped off. After the letter, Dr Ekwueme was convinced it was not a ploy and, from there, things gathered pace as it metamorphosed into the G-34 and then the PDP.

An equally very interesting feature of the PDP is that it came into existence with a party school which, tragically, assumed the character of the party after the larger tragedy in early 1999 when Obasanjo consciously and in a very determined manner, divorced the PDP he met from its roots immediately he became the president. It was probably understandable for him to do that. He certainly found himself sitting on a chair whose features he had no idea how they mapped unto each other. Having made up his mind to dump the idea of stabilising the polity and quitting the state for the return of the other members of the cohort, he was bound to re-arrange the PDP. Whether he had no better ideas of how to achieve restructuring the party is what I would not stretch this discussion into given my enhanced rating of Obasanjo’s recent politics. Anyway, he started a process of reconfiguring the party quite early. In this, many groups and individuals suffered but the ‘radicals’ must have suffered the most.

Radicals in Nigeria have a problem with consolidating power, even if we cite just the case of Balarabe Musa in the Second Republic and Kayode Fayemi in the current Republic. In both cases, overwhelming oppositional advantages seemed to explain loss of power, the kind of stuff that makes you wonder if they ever heard of a guy called Castro. In the case of Fayemi, the rigging video that came out afterwards tend to absolve him but rigging was not the initial or original story for his loss of power. Originally, it was the stomach infrastructure analogy. Anyway, in the case of the PDP, the radicals did not even manage to latch on as a group. Solomon Lar, the arch party builder and inaugural National Chairman was eased out quickly. Rimi, the most colourful of the lot lost out too. Lamido did well on the job but a foreign affairs minister is basically someone on exile. Jerry Gana was made the inaugural minister of Integration in Africa. It was a position too nebulous and too unstrategic for him, because no one else suffered as much for the PDP as Jerry Gana. In the formative years, he served as messenger, typist, tea boy, secretary and whatever else you can think of.

The NPN elements in the PDP were no less angered. Having rejected spot offer of the Senate Presidency by Obasanjo, Alex Ekwueme had practically lost out. Audu Ogbe who, with Ekwueme and Adamu Ciroma, became the face of the defunct NPN in the PDP was later invited by Obasanjo to become the party’s National Chairman but only for the duo to pack it up in a brawl, the full story of which has not yet been told. Adamu Ciroma became Finance Minister quite alright but he was in no position to stop OBJ’s IMF/World Bank predilections between 1999 and 2003 when he left active politics after injuring his credibility so much for accepting to head Obasanjo’s re-election campaign for a very principled reason. With Atiku Abubakar as Vice-President, the PDM elements in the PDP were initially well positioned but the Atiku-Obasanjo in-fighting between 2003 and 2007 finally beat PDP into a shape beyond a concept. The climax was when Obasanjo put up a committee or something like that to restructure the party. That was around 2006. Apart from Babagana Kingibe, it is difficult to think of anyone else on that Committee who knew what a party like the PDP could be restructured to look like in terms of the historical and comparative wavelengths. Anyway, it was that Committee that reserved the position of the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees exclusively to those in Obasanjo’s ranking order in the party. Uhm! We are told to thank our stars that a Kingibe was there and that, otherwise, it could have been worse.

Umaru Yar’Adua’s understandable aloofness from party building aside, the party had depleted its stock of philosophers-king by 2007. With a background in radical student activism of the early 1980s, Umaru Yar’Adua was himself a philosopher-king by any stretch of imagination but that much could not be said of many of those in the party leadership at virtually every level. By the time Jonathan took over in 2010, it was difficult to say if the PDP existed anymore. It died the day it repudiated zoning by endorsing Jonathan as presidential candidate for the 2011 elections.

Rotation of power was the summary of the June 12 struggle in which many people died. Short shrifting rotation was, therefore, the behaviour of a party that did not care much about history and had become too comfortable with a dangerous pragmatism. There was absolutely nothing impossible in positioning and grooming Jonathan for a more informed and purposeful leadership by 2015, more so that everyone knew that he lacked the exposure for qualitative presidential leadership in himself, given his bare involvement in any serious realm before surfacing in Abuja as the Vice-President. Above all, if the Niger Delta was going to produce a Nigerian president, it ought not to be a political greenhorn but someone who was adequate in himself and who could easily make the country one constituency, particularly at a time the PDP was less than a shadow of itself.

From that moment, it was a matter of time before things ended the way it has just ended. First of all, Jonathan started a dishonest, ineffectual and, altogether, laughable interpretation of the rotation policy of the PDP. Nigerians also behaved as if it was just a PDP thing when, in fact, according to Olu Onagoruwa, for example, rotation was the essence or achievement from Abacha’s National Conference or whatever it was called back in 1985. The PDP family was to get its first shocker from Jonathan when he threatened to crash the plane if he was not given the ticket, the same plane conveying many first term governors, all eyeing Second term, among others. Subsequently, the dynamics of power in Nigeria was activated and 2011 passed. Although the party had no soul anymore by this time, two things were needed to show that it was just a pack of cards: an internal implosion and an external pressure. The internal implosion came from Jonathan’s attempt to be Obasanjo’s anti-thesis. He ‘misunderestimated’ Obasanjo, apologies to George W. Bush. The second was the coming together of the opposition parties. The rest, as they say, is now history and, as with such moments in history, we are being entertained to deep seated open and hidden gnashing of teeth, total confusion, the belated realisation, the bile, the bravado and all such signs of astonishment about what has hit it. Imagine how uncomfortable the world would be today if Nigeria were a nuclear armed nation, given the frightening degree of disarray in the departing PDP in paying the wages of hubris.

Can all the king’s men and all the king’s horses put humpty dumpty together again? Uhm! That is what they are saying but who are the they? I have heard David Mark say so. He is my senior brother quite alright and is very good in many things but building a democratic party is not one of them. This is same with Babangida Aliyu, out-going governor of Niger State. He has no known pedigree in that realm. Adamu Muazu, the party Chairperson has also said that. Well! Let’s see what dosage of the PDP family stuff he gets in the months ahead. What about President Jonathan? The less said about Jonathan and rebuilding the PDP, the better. The idea of wilfully destroying something and then turning round to start talking of rebuilding is a continuation of the tradition of thoughtlessness pragmatism.

But there is a way he could be an asset in that direction and that is by humbling himself and going back to school immediately to re-learn. Any other person with his experience in the last one decade or so can easily propound a theory on the African condition. That is not the sort of thing the president’s current level of intellectual development can enable him to do. Yet, no hired writers can do it for him and capture the intensity involved. Beyond making a major contribution by synthesising his experience into a theoretical argument, further education will position him to serve Nigeria, Africa and the Blackman at a much, more elevated level. Since he is still young, this is an important point. In his own case, money to pay tuition and live comfortably as a student will not be a problem. In any case, he would only be following the Gowon example. Finally, going back to school will provide him the moments to reflect on complicated issues such as the Chibok Girls or the constitutional implication if he had won the 2015 election and been sworn-in the third time. It is important for him to understand such things more philosophically so that, should he come back in any other manner as a leader, it will bear no resemblance whatsoever to the nightmare that his first coming has been.

As things are now, there are very few people I would bother listening to about the PDP. And I have no qualms in listing some of them right away: Alex Ekwueme, Atiku Abubakar, Adamu Ciroma, Iyorchia Ayu, Sule Lamido, Ebenezer Babatope, Jerry Gana. Audu Ogbeh is, understandably, not on this list because he is already out of the party. It is not on account of any affinity to any of these people but that they have something to say about the PDP which every social scientist would value, although the puzzle there remains: why didn’t the founder’s sentiment constrain people like Alex Ekwueme, Atiku Abubakar, Adamu Ciroma, Ayu, Lamido, Jerry Gana to regroup and attempt a last ditch on reversing the certain fate of the PDP shortly before Jonathan declared for re-election in 2014 when everyone could see that a crash was inevitable? Instead, Ekwueme stuck to a pro-Jonathan Igbo position, Ciroma could not overcome his anger over 2011 or so it seems, Ayu had withdrawn to his shell, Lamido and Gana could either not see the avalanche or thought it was just a windstorm passing. As for Atiku, he had concluded that Jonathan was not going to allow anyone any room for manoeuvre and it was pointless remaining in the party.

The point is not about rebuilding the PDP and even the APC if we are talking in terms of political parties that are achieving social transformation in Malaysia, India, China and in even in some African countries. Nigeria cannot be a permanent toddler. Building real parties should be brought back on the agenda of democratisation in the country. It is no less urgent because it is the parties that are supposed to think for the nation, not individual presidential candidates.

Mr. Onoja lives in the UK